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No respite for Vela

…As SACU goes after former NSSA bosses

TINASHE MAKICHI


A special anti-corruption unit in the Office of President will pursue criminal charges against individuals implicated in the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) audit report despite High Court setting aside the aspects that pertain to former board chairman Robin Vela.


In a recent ruling, High Court Judge Justice Webster Chinamora ordered that the forensic audit of NSSA for the period January 1 2015 to February 28 2018 produced on behalf of the Auditor General of Zimbabwe by BDO Chartered Accountants be reviewed and set aside in all those respects that
pertain, whether directly and/or indirectly to the applicant (Vela).


In his application, Vela alleged an infringement of his fundamental right to administrative conduct that is lawful, prompt, efficient, reasonable, proportionate, impartial and both substantively and procedurally fair as enshrined in s 68 (1) of the Constitution.


Special Anti-Corruption Unit head Thabani Mpofu told Business Times that the State was going to pursue criminal charges on all those implicated in the report because there was enough documentary evidence to build a strong case against them.


There are also strong indications the State is expected to appeal the
High Court judgement.


“We have enough documentary evidence to build strong criminal cases against those implicated. We are going to pursue criminal cases against those implicated in the audit report,” Mpofu said.


Mpofu’s remarks come amid indications the ruling on Vela was going to throw the State off balance on to proceed with a criminal case against former Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Prisca
Mupfumira who is facing corruption charges involving US$95m where
some of the offences emanate from the NSSA audit.


Other prominent figures facing criminal allegation emanating from the audit report include HCZ representative Adam Molai over allegations raised by the audit report while some NSSA executives are already on suspension.
Justice Chinamora in his judgement noted that the investigation leading to the audit report was biased and the auditors did not apply their minds to issues before them.


“It is worth emphasising that the inaccuracies in the report speak to
failure to apply one’s mind to the issues for determination before it. In
respect of costs, the conduct of the second respondent warrants censure.


“The record shows that it was within its power to eliminate some
of the failures which undermined the applicant’s rights,” Justice
Chinamora said.


For example, Justice Chinamora noted that the period the applicant
joined the NSSA board could have been easily verified from information
in its possession.


Again, Justice Chinamora further said it would not have been difficult
to consider the answers given by Vela and provided reasons for discounting
them. In respect of the alleged financial improprieties of ministers
Kagonye and Zhuwao, the court was not convinced by the reason given
for not confronting them in the report.


It is evident to me that they fell within the second BDO Zimbabwe’s
brief, but were unexplainably avoided.


“In the exercise of my discretion, I have decided to award punitive costs
against the second respondent. As no costs were sought against the first
respondent, I will grant the order as prayed in the draft order,” Justice
Chinamora declared.


This judgement therefore means preferring charges against NSSA
executive including Vela and former Minister Mupfumira will be difficult
considering circumstances now around the audit report which has
since been condemned by the upper court.


In his application, Vela contended that the report was inaccurate to
the extent that it alleges that some investments were made without
board approval. He referred to a board resolution of September 2012
which authorised management to implement decisions of the Board
Investment Committee.


Additionally, he submitted that the report was inconsistent, particularly, with regard to the Housing Corporation of Zimbabwe Limited (HCZ) issue where it gave loss figures varying from US$16m to US$104m then to US$304m.


He argued that, at any rate, the amount of US$16m paid by NSSA to HCZ was secured by a Zimnat insurance guarantee of US$16m and a land bond of US$32m.


Vela further stated that the board’s view was that off-take agreements
did not require to go through a tender board, and Charles Nyika employed to ensure compliance with procurement regulations did not raise any alarm.


Vela therefore argued that the suggestion that he pushed the projects without tender approval was malicious. He also denied authorizing Metbank to utilise US$37.75m of NSSA treasury bills in their custody, since the authority was granted in the name of former general manager Liz Chitiga, but a letter in her name had been signed by her executive assistant James Chiuta.


Even so, Vela submitted that the criticism was unwarranted since NSSA had the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe clearance on the good standing of Metbank.


Vela further submitted that the auditors’ findings conflict with the first respondent’s earlier work. In this regard, the applicant contended that
if a loss of US$104m existed, it would have been flagged in December 2018
results as a contingent liability and published in NSSA’s annual report.

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